The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.—Sri Nisargadatta
When we carefully observe our thoughts, we discover that they are not in our control—we swim in an uninvited constant stream of memories, plans, expectations, judgments, regrets. Observing the mind we see how it contains all possibilities, often in conflict with one another—the beautiful qualities of a saint and the destructive capacities of a dictator and murderer. Out of these, the mind continually plans and imagines, creating endless visions, hopes and fears, ideas and struggles, and scenarios for changing the world.
Often the root of these movements of mind is dissatisfaction. We seem to want both endless excitement and perfect peace. But instead of being served by our thinking, we are driven by it in unconscious and unexamined ways. While thoughts can be enormously useful and creative, often they dominate our experience with attachments to our likes and dislikes, with views that divide the world into higher and lower, self and other. Our thoughts repeatedly tell stories about our successes and failures, plan our security, habitually remind us of who and what we think we are.
The dualistic nature of thought is one of the roots of our suffering. Whenever we think of ourselves as separate, fear and attachment arise and we grow constricted, defensive, ambitious, and territorial. To protect the separate self, we push certain things away, and to bolster it, we hold on to other things and identify with them.
Healing the mind takes place in two ways: In the first, we bring kind attention to the content of our thoughts and learn to redirect them more skillfully through practices of wise reflection. Through mindfulness, we can come to know and let go of the patterns of unhelpful worry and obsession; we can clarify our confusion and release destructive views and opinions. We can reflect on what we most value. Asking the question, Do I love well? is an example of this. When we see unhealthy thoughts, we can learn to direct our thoughts into the skillful states of loving-kindness, respect, and ease of mind. Heart-centered meditation practices help us by using the recitation of positive phrases of kindness and compassion in order to break through old, destructively repetitious patterns of thought.
However, even though we work to re-educate the mind, we can never be completely successful. The mind has a will of its own no matter how much we wish to direct it. So, for a deeper healing of the conflicts of the mind, we need to let go of our identification with them. To heal, we must learn to step back from all the stories of the mind, because the conflicts and opinions of our thoughts never end. As the Buddha noted, “People and opinions just go around bothering one another.”
When we direct our loving awareness to see the thoughts that judge and grasp and fear, we can release ourselves from their divisive grip and come to rest in the body and heart. In this way, we step out of our identification, out of our expectations, opinions, and judgments and the conflicts to which they give rise.
The mind thinks of the self as separate—the heart knows better. As one great Indian master, Sri Nisargadatta, put it, “The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.”
Many of the great sorrows of the world arise when the mind is disconnected from the heart. In meditation we can reconnect with our heart and discover an inner sense of spaciousness, unity, and compassion underneath all the conflicts of thought. The loving heart allows for the stories and ideas, the fantasies and fears of the mind to arise without believing in them, without having to follow them or having to fulfill them. When we listen with the heart, beneath all the busyness of thought, we discover a sweet, healing silence, an inherent peacefulness in each of us, a goodness of heart, strength and wholeness that is our birthright. This basic goodness is sometimes called our original nature, or Buddha nature. When we return to our original nature, we can acknowledge the ways of the mind and yet rest in peace and goodness. We discover the healing of the mind.